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English Heritage

Volume 689: debated on Wednesday 21 February 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

When they intend to appoint a new chairman of English Heritage.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but will he explain why, after an extensive recruitment process, subject to all the Nolan criteria, carried out by the DCMS, the two candidates who were recommended by officials to the Secretary of State were summarily turned down? Will he assure me that it was not because of their perceived political connections? Does the Minister realise that if a supporter of the Government is appointed instead, it will be seen as an unwelcome party-political act in an appointment process?

My Lords, if the noble Viscount were correct, I would agree with him, but I will explain briefly what happened. After interviewing five strong candidates, the independent selection committee recommended that the Secretary of State should see two candidates who most closely met the published criteria. She talked to them in great detail and came to the conclusion that neither candidate demonstrated the full range of criteria which were published in the role specification. An independent assessor oversaw the appointments process and was consulted before this decision was reached, and the department also wrote to the Commissioner for Public Appointments before announcing this decision. The process was carried out correctly under the Nolan criteria. The idea that the two candidates were summarily rejected is simply not true.

My Lords, the hours of the prospective chair of English Heritage have been cut to one day a week, and the salary has been reduced from £68,000 to £30,000. Is this not a downgrading of the role of English Heritage? Do the Government really believe that that is the best way of attracting a new chair?

My Lords, again, I am afraid that the noble Lord’s information is totally inaccurate. Remuneration for this post will be at an annual rate of £60,000 for a 90-day-per-year time commitment. This illustrates the importance that we—when I use the word “we”, I mean all of us in this Chamber—attach to English Heritage.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the very good working relationship which has developed between the present chair, Sir Neil Cossons, and his team and all the churches of this country? Will he use his best endeavours to ensure that the new chair follows up some of the creative thinking outlined in your Lordships' House in the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, on 7 December last year?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham is absolutely right. The debate last December was memorable. Many constructive views on the relationship between English Heritage and the churches were expressed. I can give an assurance that the good relationship which has been established between Sir Neil Cossons and his team and the churches of this country will continue.

My Lords, is there not a lot of mischievous comment in the press surrounding this appointment? Some of us are wondering who is feeding the press.

My Lords, I have absolutely no idea who is feeding the press. I have looked at the papers very carefully and, having sat on the selection committee for more than six years, I am absolutely satisfied that the process was carried out correctly and with some sensitivity. If I did not feel that, I would be asking my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham here to answer this Question.

My Lords, would the Minister not agree that, as a former DCMS Minister, the noble Viscount would be a good candidate for this post?

My Lords, I do agree, but I know that the noble Viscount already has a job that many of us would love to have ourselves. However, if he is interested, I shall arrange for application forms to be sent to him and I will be one of the referees.

My Lords, if and when the new chairman is appointed, are the Government minded to improve the funding to English Heritage to enable it to carry out more of the activities that it would wish to carry out?

My Lords, English Heritage is well funded. With non-grant income, its total revenue this year is expected to be £165 million, which is a significant sum. There are enormous calls on its funds, but it is such an important organisation that it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that it is properly funded.

My Lords, can I remind my noble friend that many of us on this side are immensely proud of being British and are certainly not too proud to take a job for one day a week at the rate of £30,000 a year?